5 Tools Used to Diagnose Bone Cancer
Doctors usually use a combination of imaging, blood and biopsy tests during the bone cancer diagnostic process. Most patients can expect to undergo one or more tests before their health care teams determine the best course of treatment.
X-rays help doctors see many types of bone cancer early in the diagnostic process. Cancerous areas look different than normal bone on an X-ray. Some types look like dark holes, while others have ragged edges and a texture that is different from solid bone. Doctors often use X-rays to pinpoint the general location and boundaries of a tumor; further imaging tests are usually required.
Patients with cancer often have high levels of alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme that is produced primarily by bone, particularly during periods of tissue growth, and the liver. To test for alkaline phosphatase, doctors use a blood test. High levels of the enzyme may indicate bone cancer in adult patients. For young, growing patients who naturally have high concentrations of alkaline phosphatase, a blood test may not be an effective option.
Doctors use bone scans to find cancerous areas in the bone. Before the test, the patient receives an injection of radioactive material. The material makes its way through the bloodstream and accumulates in the bones. Special scanners detect the material, helping doctors see the spread of the cancer.
Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
A CT scan gives the doctor a detailed picture of the cancerous tumor. The patient receives a contrast dye solution and lies still in the scanner. The imaging system creates a 3-D picture of the interior of the body, helping the doctor understand the exact size and location of the tumor. A CT scan image can help medical professionals determine the best place to take a tissue sample for further analysis.
Once a doctor has a clear picture of a bone tumor, he usually conducts a biopsy to analyze the cancerous cells. Depending on the type of cancer, the doctor may insert a needle into the bone to remove a tissue sample. Other patients require a surgical biopsy, in which the doctor removes the entire tumor. Medical professionals examine the excised tissue under a microscope to determine the kind of cancer and determine whether or not it has spread to another location in the body.
The process of diagnosing bone cancer usually involves two or more steps during which the doctor detects the cancer, maps the tumor and analyzes the tissue. The specific tests vary from patient to patient and may change based on the location in the body and the type of cancer.